What if we told you that snacking just before dinner will help you lose weight?
We know this sounds absurd. Eating dinner already means a set amount of calories. But snacking before dinner? Doesn’t that mean even more calories?
The After-School Snack
When I was younger, I always reached for the fruit bowl as soon as I got home from school. There was something about a juicy peach or a just-ripe banana that perfectly satisfied the after-school tummy void. However, my Mum always told me off for snacking, saying that I would be too full to eat her delicious home cooked dinner.
Little did we know that both of us were onto something quite profound. But before we delve into that though, my Mum was right. Whenever I had my pre-dinner fruit snack, I always ate less for dinner!
It was the same when I moved out of home. I didn’t realise that preparing and cooking food before feeling hungry was a thing. My unorganised, I-am-officially-adulting self would feel so hungry but I hadn’t cooked anything yet! This meant I snacked on an apple or whatever fruits were available as I cooked my dinner in a rush.
Suddenly that entire plate I was so keen to devour? I only ate half of it.
Eating More to Eat Less
So this concept of eating something just before eating a main meal is known as pre-loading.
There was a study that explored the effects of eating a salad as a first-course before lunch. Women were required to eat the entire salad but could eat as much or little of the main meal (pasta) as they wanted. The researchers varied the amount of calories and portion size of the salad too. They also observed how much pasta the women willingly ate without any pre-loading which was about 900 calories.
The results of the study were astonishing. Women who ate a low-energy-dense salad (around 100 calories) before their meal had greater satiety and reduced their pasta intake by as much as 200 calories. This meant that instead of consuming a total of 1000 calories (900 plus 100), they actually consumed only 800 calories (700 plus 100). This was 100 calories less than what the women would have consumed even if the women only ate the pasta!
Interestingly, those who ate the higher-energy-dense salads (extra cheese, fatty dressing) actually increased their overall intake and calories. There was no negative calorie effect but rather, the women consumed even more pasta at the end.
So this study suggests that eating a low-energy-dense food (whether it be simple salad or something similar) at the start of a meal may actually help us to eat even less calories… even though we’re eating more!
Pass the Fruit Basket Please
Similar results have also been documented with other foods such as fruit and vegetable soup.
There’s something really cool about the soup study. Researchers found that participants who ate soup before lunch not only reduced their lunch intake but their dinner intake was also reduced. The negative calorie effect carried over across to a meal 7 hours later!
However, there is always a catch.
Pre-loading on foods before dinner unfortunately doesn’t mean snacking on a bag of chips or a dinner roll. As shown in the salad study, women who snacked on a higher calorie-dense salad actually ate more salad overall.
So to make sure we’re pre-loading appropriately, the first-course would have to be something that contained less then about 100 calories per cup. This means foods with high protein, fibre and water content – which you guessed it! Vegetables and fruits.
And Also That Glass of Water!
This amazing negative calorie phenomenon doesn’t limit itself to foods.
Drinking water immediately before a meal has also been shown to reduce a person’s calorie intake for that meal. The study found that people who drank water before a meal lost 2kg more than those who didn’t and also a 44% greater decline in weight. However, another study found this only occurred in older people compared to younger subjects.
So Yay to Snacking Before Dinner!
So now we know that there is some evidence to snacking just before lunch or dinner.
Eating a low-energy-dense food such as fruit, vegetables, salad or soup can help us feel fuller earlier and also reduce our calorie intake at the end of the main meal.
Not only can this negative calorie pre-loading help accelerate our weight loss… but we can also save that leftover pasta for tomorrow!
- Dennis EA, Dengo AL, Comber DL, et al. Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19661958/
- Flood-Obbagy JE, Rolls BJ. The effect of fruit in different forms on energy intake and satiety at a meal. Appetite. 2009;52(2):416‐422. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19110020/
- Flood JE, Rolls BJ. Soup preloads in a variety of forms reduce meal energy intake. Appetite. 2007;49(3):626‐634. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17574705/
- Himaya A, Louis-Sylvestre J. The effect of soup on satiation. Appetite. 1998;30(2):199‐210. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9573453/
- Holt SH, Miller JC, Petocz P, Farmakalidis E. A satiety index of common foods. Eur J Clin Nutr. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7498104/
- Rolls BJ, Roe LS, Meengs JS. Salad and satiety: energy density and portion size of a first-course salad affect energy intake at lunch. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;104(10):1570‐1576. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15389416/
- Van Walleghen EL, Orr JS, Gentile CL, Davy BM. Pre-meal water consumption reduces meal energy intake in older but not younger subjects. Obesity (Silver Spring). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17228036/